Sunday, May 9, 2010

Culinary Conquistagloriousalsa!

Since it would have been entirely too convenient for me to share a Cinco-de-Mayo-related recipe with you before the holiday had come and gone, today I'm going to fill you in on how I celebrated on Wednesday and how our most recent culinary endeavor played into the festivities.

As you may or may not know, next Friday is my last day at the P.R. firm at which I have been interning since the beginning of the year. I've learned much more than I've earned, but I've had a great experience and am definitely coming out of the internship with a good bit of personal and professional development to show for it. It'll be a sad change in a lot of ways, but once you know that you are not going to be hired for financial reasons, it is time to move on.

Anyway, Wednesday (Cinco-de-Mayo) was the day of the Third Annual Salsa Challenge at the firm and I got talked into competing. I have never made salsa before, thus it seemed like a perfect challenge for a Culinary Conquistador... I couldn't just be that guy with a food blog who decided he didn't feel like competing.

In true last minute fashion, I went to my golf lesson on Tuesday at 7pm (realizing upon my arrival that they had scheduled me incorrectly and thus I ended up practicing on my own for a while) and then headed on to Heinen's at 8pm. Armed with a recipe which I had apparently cut out of a 2007 Gentleman's Quarterly issue and stuck in a cookbook, I was about to gather up the required fresh ingredients (plus a few additives of my own) and make it out before the store closed at 8:30.

When the GQ recipe page fell out of the cookbook that my mother was reference, I was excited for two reasons. First, I've generally had good luck with GQ-originating recipes in the past. Secondly, I thought to myself, "boy, writing this blog post ought to be easy... I can totally find it online and not have to type it all up!"

Guess I was wrong on the latter part.

For whatever reason, like a ghost-riding phantom drifting across the Mexican border to impart delicious, cryptic, tomato-centric knowledge upon me only to disappear forever into the sunset, I should have known that I'd never see so much as a mention of the recipe after the fact.

Well, alright, maybe that would have been a stretch. Regardless, I  have the original page of the bygone magazine issue and thus with a little extra effort can still relate to you the steps I took to make our salsa.


"Roasted-Tomato Salsa" modified to become...

Serves four to six (if that is all you're eating)

  • ~1 pound of on-the-vine tomatoes, cored
  • 2 Kumato tomatoes (they are brownish in color)
  • 6 Campari tomatoes (smaller, but larger than cherry tomatoes)
  • 3/4 lb. of tomatillos
  • 8 serrano chillies, stems removed
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil (plus a little extra)
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • 1/4 white onion, chipped
  • Handful of cilantro, stemmed and chopped
  • 1 lime
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Toss tomatoes (all) tomatillos, chilies, garlic, and sliced (red) onion with a small amount of oil in a roasting pan, season with salt, and then roast until soft and wilted (about 30-45 minutes... check @ 30 min). If you want a bit of char on the vegetables for added flavor (you do), roast the tomatoes, tomatillos, and chilies in sperate pans over high heat before placing them in the oven.

3. Once the ingredients are roasted (again, they should be soft and somewhat wilted), let them cool a bit then puree in a food processor, slowly adding the 1/2 cup of oil. This will help to emulsify the salsa. Season to taste with salt and a pinch or two of sugar (I went heavier on the salt as I like the taste).

4. Mix in the chopped raw (white) onion and cilantro. Cut your lime in half, juicing half and mixing the juice in with the salsa. Cut the other half into 6 wedges (see picture) to be used by individuals who may want to further flavor their salsa... besides, it looks cool as a colorful decoration.

5. Serve with warm tortillas or good-quality tortilla chips. Preferably cold beer or margaritas as well.


And that's what I did. It took a while... it was a bit more... viscous than anticipated and was also orange vs. the red salsa in the picture for one reason or another. The taste, which was the important part, was great.

The office shut down at 4pm on Wednesday and the "Creative Team" area became a Mexican eatery. We ended up having 13 entries in the competition and Lisa's husband came and tended bar with top shelf tequila-made margaritas and Coronas. It was a blast; all of the salsas were very different (ranging from chunky mango ones to smoky fine chipotle blends) but all very good. Everyone had a chance to submit one vote for their favorite of the thirteen... I'd say 25-30 folks voted.

The Culinary Conquistagloriousalsa did receive a couple votes for best salsa, however the top award went to a woman named Kris who used special smoked peppers from a brother-in-law in Arizona and herbs she'd grown in her own garden. Where my salsa was orange, hers was a deep brown and tasted as smoky as it looked. It deserved the win... and the festive giant chili pepper plate that went with the title.

Looking at my salsa, I have to say I was pretty happy with the results. I'll warn you now that it is pretty spicy... serrano peppers are up there in the heat index. Not TOO spicy; some sauces or chilies that I've had over the years leave a lingering, hurt-your-tongue burn. This chili has a crescendoing heat effect... You eat some and feel nothing at first, slowly gaining a "kick" over the first 15 seconds or so. The spiciness lingers for a minute or two, but recedes as quickly as it came. I nice touch, but nothing to lament afterward.

The taste was interesting. While the texture may have been less "meaty" than I had expected, the salsa was full of flavor and complexity. Everyone was very complimentary of it while sampling all the salsas, and Matty / the rest of our family was quite impressed when they tried it the next day.

In the end, I am glad that I competed. It was a chance to make a vegetable-only dish, use the freshest of ingredients, and come out with a big success on the first try. If you're looking to try your hand at a from-scratch salsa anytime soon, give strong consideration to the Culinary Conquistagloriousalsa.

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